Sugarplums

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The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads…

I would love to have visions of dancing sugar-plums in my head, but I don’t know what they look like! And of course, there’s really no such thing, from a fruit standpoint. Ages ago I came across a recipe for Sugarplums on the Food Network website, and I was intrigued.

Turns out there have been candies/confections called Sugarplums around for a long time, and they’re all similar to this recipe, with nuts and dried fruits, rolled into balls.

So there’s no real sugar plum, but nonetheless this recipe was something I knew I had to make!

Best of all, I had 7-year old help with these!

Sugarplums

6 ounces Brazilnuts
6 ounces dried plums
4 ounces dried apricots
4 ounces dried figs, stemmed
1/4 cup powdered sugar, sieved
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground anise seed
1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1/4 cup honey
Swedish pearl sugar

Weigh out the Brazilnuts and all of the dried fruit, then place it all in the jar of a food processor. Pulse until on the coarse side, but not too coarse. You need all of it to stick together.

Place the mixture in a bowl and add the powdered sugar with the poppy seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, anise seeds, and fennel seeds. Give it all a stir and set aside.

When you are ready to finish the Sugarplums, have the nut-fruit mixture and two latex gloves handy. Place the Swedish pearl sugar in a small bowl. Also have a rack handy on which to place the Sugarplums. Put on the gloves and begin mixing everything together. Roll the sticky mixture into balls and dip in the sugar. Then place on the rack.

Continue with the remaining fruit and nut mixture. This recipe made about 20 Sugarplums, until everyone starts sampling them.

These are really sweet. I don’t think there’s any getting around it, because you need the dried fruits, the powdered sugar, and the stickiness of the honey. Definitely make these for your favorite sweets lover!

Semifreddo

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Semi freddo means half frozen in Italian. It’s a pretty good description of this dessert, which lives in the freezer, but gets soft within a few minutes at room temperature. It’s not ice cream. It’s a sabayon folded into whipped cream, then frozen.

I’ve actually made this dessert three times before. Horrors. I know. I usually make something new when I have an excuse to make a dessert for company. But this semifreddo is so good that sometimes I need to make it because I know how delicious it is.

This version uses dried cranberries and crystallized ginger, and is served with a berry sauce. But I’ve also made a pumpkin version that was incredible. In fact, I could probably make one a month, using whatever is in season – think strawberry, cherry, cranberry, citrus, etc… Semifreddo of the month club!

This dessert is very easy although it does take time. Fortunately, it should be made the day before, and taken out of the freezer before slicing and serving.

If you’ve never made a semifreddo, it’s time you did!!! It’s delicious and elegant.

Semifreddo with Dried Cranberries and Crystallized Ginger

2 3/4 cups heavy cream
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup white wine, I used a Riesling
2/3 cups white sugar
Zest of one large orange
1 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup crystallized ginger

Whip the cream until firm peaks form. Refrigerate until needed.

Place plastic wrap going both directions in a large loaf pan, with plenty hanging over. My pan is 9″ long, and 6″ deep.

semi16

Have the orange zest handy, as well as the dried cranberries and ginger.

Place a large pot of water on the stove on simmer. Then place the egg yolks, wine, and sugar in your mixing bowl.

Beat the three ingredients until nice and smooth, then place the bowl over the simmering water, just as if you were tempering chocolate.

Continue beating.

And beating.

You will notice the mixture increase in volume, and also become lighter in color. After about ten minutes of beating or so, it will thicken.

Test the mixture with a thermometer – it should reach 160 degrees Farenheit.

When this happens, remove the bowl from the hot water, but continue beating until it cools, which should taker 7 or 8 minutes. If you want, have a pan of icy water on hand to put the bowl in, like I did, to expedite the cooling of the sabayon.

When you are sure that the mixture isn’t warm anymore, begin folding the whipped cream into the sabayon. You don’t want any streaks.

Then fold in the orange zest, dried cranberries and ginger.

Pour the semifreddo mixture gently in the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.

Immediately place in the freezer. After about one hour, cover the loaf pan with the overhanging plastic wrap. I also add another layer of plastic wrap to insure that the semifreddo doesn’t absorb any off flavors from the freezer.

To serve, unwrap the semifreddo and turn it out onto a flat serving platter. Let it warm up for a few minutes, then slice it into 1/2″ slices. You can always use a knife that is held under running hot water to make the slices, then wipe the knife after each slice and repeat.

Top with a spoonful of berry sauce, if desired, and serve.

All kinds of different additions can be used in a semifreddo, but I stick with smaller pieces of dried fruits. Larger, dried cherries might interfere with the slicing process. Also, nuts like pistachios and macadamias would be fabulous as well, finely chopped.

It’s a very forgiving dessert!

Figgy Jam

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Figgy Jam! Just the name alone conjures Christmas spirit! And it’s December – time to plan cheese pairings!

Personally, I think a jam, paste, or curd is a wonderful addition to a cheese platter, because it enhances the cheese. This one has a little savory component to it, but it’s not a chutney. And, it’s really not a jam, because it’s not that sweet.

Just as the Spaniards are so good at pairing their beloved Manchego with quince paste, I make my figgy “jam” to pair with cheeses like Chèvre, Brie, and my favorite stinky cheese of all time – the famous Époisses from the Burgundy region of France.

I love dried figs, but I have to admit something. When I eat a dense fig jam, it can sometimes feel like I’m chewing sand because of the seeds. So to the figs, I added dates and dried cranberries. That way, I will have the figgy flavor, but not so many seeds.

And the cranberries provide a more scarlet color, which fits the holidays.
So here’s what I did:

Figgy Jam

1 pound dried fruit – chopped figs, chopped dates, and dried cranberries
1 apple, peeled, cored, finely diced
¾ cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup ruby Port
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 shallots, finely diced
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick

On a scale, weigh out the fruit you’re using – in this case, figs, dates, and dried cranberries.

Place all of the ingredients in a pot including the cinnamon stick.

Cook the mixture with the lid on for about 30 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring often.

Pretty much all of the liquid will have been absorbed; you want the dried fruit hydrated, but also have a little liquid left over in order to process the jam.

Let the mixture cool. Remove the cinnamon stick, then put the mixture in a food processor. Pulse, scrape, pulse, scape, and continue, using a little more orange juice if necessary. I don’t make a paste – I prefer to have a little texture.

Place in jars and store in the refrigerator. Alternately, freeze the jars and thaw in the refrigerator before serving.

The jam is best at room temperature served with a variety of cheeses, crackers, breads, and more dried fruits!

There are brie logs that would make lovely canapés.

Also, the figgy jam could be put on a brie wheel of any size, warmed slightly. Then you get the combination of oozing cheese and the figgy jam.

I drizzled a little maple syrup over the brie as well.

The jam is also good with goat cheese.

However you use it, you will love the combination.

The figgy jam isn’t terribly sweet, so it’s also good on toast in the morning!

Golden Cauliflower and Carrot Rice

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I’m pretty sure you all know that I’m not fond of food trends. I’ve probably mentioned this numerous times. So if something becomes popular and trendy, I completely ignore it.

Sure, I’m old(er) and old-fashioned, but it’s just my personality. I never wore white metallic lipstick in the 60’s, either.

The dumb thing is, sometimes when you’re too stubborn, you can really miss out. Like the bowl trend. Is there one on my blog? No! But they do look lovely.

And in the 80’s, when I really started cooking, I looked down my nose at both sun-dried tomatoes and basil pesto because they were everywhere. I have no idea how many years I lost not indulging in those two fabulous foods. I’ll never forgive myself for that.

Which leads me to… cauliflower rice. Nope.

Then, thanks to the lovely Serena from her blog, Domesticate Me, I saw a recipe that I couldn’t ignore. It was a cauliflower and carrot rice with almonds and golden raisins.

If you don’t know Serena, you must check her blog out and her just-published cookbook, The Dude Diet.

She’s a doll, she’s funny, and she swears. Oh, and she’s a professionally-trained chef. What’s not to love?!! But also, and this is important to me, if I comment, she responds to my comment.

Now this may seem a bit silly, but I will stop following blogs if the authors have no time for me. It’s not that I’m so great, it’s because the best thing about blogging in my four-plus years of doing so, is the interaction. It’s like this virtual, giant group of foodie friends that you get to know around the world.

Plus, on some of those fancy blogs, you can tell that the author responds to nobody’s comment. They’re just too important and busy. I just don’t get that.

Serena has been on her book tour around the U.S., but she is still responding to comments. And I know how much time it takes, because I follow many blogs. It’s just part of the dedication one should have to one’s blog. And Serena’s blog is also one of those fancy ones!

I promised Serena that I would make her “rice” dish because it really sounded lovely. She assured me it would not disappoint.

Golden Cauliflower and Carrot Rice
Adapted slightly from Domesticate Me!

1 medium head cauliflower, florets only, about 1 lb. 6 ounces
Baby carrots, 8 ounces
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Salt
Juice of 1 lemon
¾ cup chopped parsley leaves
½ cup golden raisins (I used figs)
½ cup chopped raw almonds (I used hazelnuts)
Lemon wedges for serving (optional)

Add about half of the cauliflower florets to a food processor and pulse until a “rice” forms. Place in a large bowl, then process the remaining cauliflower.

Process the carrots the same way, and add the riced carrots to the cauliflower.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the cauliflower and carrot rice, turmeric, cayenne, cumin, and a good pinch of salt.

Cook for 2-3 minutes until the rice is just tender.

Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice.

Fold in the parsley, dried fruits, and toasted nuts. Taste, and add salt if necessary.

I served this “rice” with some grilled chicken that was marinated in a garlic-parsley marinade.

What’s really fun is changing up the dried fruits and nuts according to your taste and the season. Imagine this dish with dried cranberries and pistachios in December!

Dried figs and hazelnuts are really more autumnal, but I had them on hand and I love them.

Okay, so am I glad I finally tried cauliflower rice? Of course! But I really liked what Serena did with the dish, adding carrots, seasoning, and the fruits and nuts. I can also see this as a salad with a vinaigrette, maybe with some orzo, or barley, or just like it is.

Serena’s actual name for this dish is Cauliflower and Carrot Golden “Rice,” and she serves it in a bowl, but it’s okay, cause I like her. I put mine on a plate. Maybe I can start a plate trend?!!